'Today' Spins Bear CEO's Billion-Dollar Loss As 'Payday'

When is a billion-dollar loss a bonanza? When the person suffering it is one of those greedy Wall Street types the MSM loves to hate. Check out how, in opening this morning's show, Today cast the situation of Bear Stearns Chairman James Cayne:
MATT LAUER: Payday! His company imploded and thousands of stockholders went bust, but the Chairman of Bear Stearns cashes in and gets $61 million dollars. Will there be a backlash?

Watching the intro, I assumed the Chairman, despite Bears' fall, had received some kind of bonus or golden handshake. It wasn't until Maria Bartiromo came on later that we learned that Bear Chairman James Cayne, far from receiving a bonus or bonanza, had incurred one of the worst personal financial losses in the history of the street.

As Bartiromo explained, at the top of the market, Bear Chairman James Caynes's shares in the firm were worth over $1 billion. He has now sold his stake for about $60 million. So here's a guy who has lost about a billion, roughly 94% of the value of his holdings at their peak. But how does Today demagogue it in its opening: "payday"!

Sure, no one's should feel too sorry for Cayne. If he clips supermarket coupons and is careful, he'll probably be able to feed his family on the measly $61 million. Even so, that's no justification for the misleading way NBC played the class-warfare game in depicting the situation in its opening.

Aside: In 2006, Lauer reportedly signed a contract with NBC paying him $13 million per year for five years, a total of $65 million. Let's imagine that as a result of some kind of corporate turmoil, Lauer agreed to be bought out of his contract for $3.9 million, the same 94% reduction that Cayne incurred in the value of his shareholdings from their highest value. Do you think Matt would be touting this as "cashing in" and getting a "payday" for himself?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.